A brief history of the organized blind movement in Washington State

The Washington State Association of the Blind (WSAB)

In the 1920s blind people in this state were feeling that the only way that they could gain recognition of their special needs was to express themselves through groups of blind people speaking together. Groups were formed in places like Spokane, Vancouver, Everett, and Seattle.

By the middle 1930s it was apparent that blind people needed a larger voice to advocate for such things as library services, maintenance of the state school for the blind, and a raise in public assistance.

In 1935 the Washington State Association of the Blind was formed with three chapters: Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma. The group grew larger with the addition of new groups in Everett and Yakima. In the early 1940s, a National organization called the National Federation of the Blind was founded. In 1941 WSAB joined this organization.

Eleven years later, the Washington State Association of the Blind was incorporated as doing business in our state. More chapters joined WSAB from Wenatchee, Clarkston, Thurston County, and another group in Yakima.

In the middle of the decade, WSAB started producing its own magazine, "the White Cane." In the early 1960s, a split in the national organization created a new national organization called the American Council of the Blind. The Wenatchee group withdrew, but two more chapters were added from Grays Harbor and Vancouver.

In 1969 the WSAB president asked the national organization to assist the state in recruiting younger people since the average age of a WSAB member was pretty high. After a reorganizing effort, a youth group was created to attract a new generation of members. In 1970 the youth group was dissolved because most of its leaders were elected to offices in the state organization.

Also, in 1969 WSAB was instrumental in the passage of a major civil rights bill for blind and visually impaired people in this state. That piece of legislation was the White Cane Bill, which is still in state law over 36 years later. WSAB continued until 1972 when its name was changed.

The Washington Council of the Blind

It was 1971 and a small group of blind people felt that another organization of blind and visually impaired people was needed that could present another view and voice for the blind of the state. In the fall of that year an organizing meeting was held at the Roosevelt hotel in Seattle and the Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) was formed in King County. It was incorporated as doing business in Washington State in 1972. They would become an affiliate of the young American Council of the Blind. During the next 19 years, WCB would add chapters in Vancouver and on the Olympic Peninsula.

WCB stayed relatively small, but many of its members will tell you that it had a family environment about it. WCB did produce its own internal news bulletin.

The National Federation of the Blind of Washington (NFBW)

The Washington State Association of the Blind changed its name to the National Federation of the Blind in 1972. For 9 years it served as an activist voice for the blind of Washington. The organization was successful in getting legislation passed to allow blind people to serve on juries, and to be able to obtain car insurance without being charged a higher rate.

NFBW was successful in getting the Washington State legislature to establish an independent rehabilitation agency, separate from the larger, general rehabilitation agency.

During this time another chapter from the Tri-Cities was added. In 1979 the state's relationship with its national organization became strained to the point that the NFBW was expelled from NFB.

United Blind of Washington State (UBWS)

After its expulsion, the state organization decided to adopt the name United Blind of Washington State. For 8 plus years the organization maintained its posture as a purpose-driven voice for blind people. Chapters were added in Walla Walla and Bellingham. UBWS had its own monthly publication called Newsline. Having no national organization to look to for direction, UBWS was not as active as it was in the 1970s. In 1988 and 1989 UBWS and WCB initiated possible merger talks.

The National Federation of the Blind of Washington reorganizes

A reorganized National Federation of the Blind (NFBW) was established in Seattle in 1980. This organization has remained an affiliate of the NFB from that time to the present. It also is the voice of NFB with in the state of Washington. NFBW has added chapters in North King County/South Snohomish, Vancouver, the Inland Empire, Bremerton, and on the Olympic Peninsula.

Washington Council of the Blind merges

After one-and-a-half years of talks between Washington Council of the Blind and United Blind of Washington State, a special convention was called for so that the members of the two organizations could decide whether to merge.

The new organization kept the name Washington Council of the Blind along with its affiliation in the American Council of the Blind. The new WCB kept Newsline as its monthly publication.

From the merger to the present, its presidents have been Sue Ammeter, Sharon Keeran, Sue Ammeter, Berl Colley, and Cindy Burgett-Van Winkle.

The merged organization has been successful in maintaining the family environment of the original WCB while embracing the purpose-driven activism of UBWS. WCB successfully worked on the passage of the Braille Rights Bill in the middle 1990s. WCB worked to keep the White Cane Law from being watered down with non-blindness clauses. WCB worked to pass legislation to strengthan state laws giving disabled people the ability to vote independently,and has served as a willing advocate for blind and visually impaired individuals who have needed a wide variety of financial or legal help.

Since the merger, new chapters have been added in Olympia, Jefferson County, Wenatchee, Longview/Kelso, Everett, Yakima, and South King County. The Bremerton chapter grew to the point that it split off a new chapter in Port Orchard. One special interest group joined WCB: Guide Dog Users of Washington State.

In 2006, there are 18 chapters in WCB. Its primary focuses are in the areas of education and advocacy. The organization doesn’t forget to have fun, as it sponsors an annual outing to a Mariners game. The WCB is a strong advocate for separate services for blind and visually impaired people through the Department of Services for the Blind. It supports the efforts of the Washington State School for the Blind to provide the highest quality education for blind and visually impaired youth throughout the state. The WCB has been an on-going advocate for the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library.

The Washington Council of the blind has proven that an organized, collective voice is the most effective way to protect the rights of blind and visually impaired Washingtonians.



Berl Colley
November 7, 2006

Change the font size: + Larger Font | + Smaller Font